In addition to being one of the Geological Survey of Canada’s most brilliant field geologists, George Dawson, who was hired by the Survey in 1875, is considered to be the Father of Canadian Anthropology. Most notably, he made a valuable contribution to this emerging field with written and photographic records of West Coast Aboriginal communities.
In the summer of 1878 he led a Survey expedition to study the Queen Charlotte Islands, now Haida Gwaii, with the goal of finding coal deposits to power Canada’s rail transportation. Not only did he produce superb geological maps, he also found time to collect information that became the basis of his 1880 essay on the Haida. This 86-page document records Haida customs and language, and remains a classic anthropological reference.
Dawson also captured priceless photographic images of the Haida villages, just prior to their decline. By 1900, the Haida population had been decimated by smallpox and other diseases brought in by the Europeans, and few new totem poles were erected. Those standing were the victims of weather and decay. But in 1878, the communities were still thriving and the artistry of their totem poles was at its peak.
Dawson, G.M., 1880. On the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands; Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada, Report of Progress 1878-79, Montreal, 98 p.
Tolmie, W.F. and Dawson, G.M., 1884. Comparative vocabularies of the Indian tribes of British Columbia: with a map illustrating distribution; Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada, Separate Report no. 454, Dawson Brothers, Montreal, 131 p.